A San Francisco man’s rare condition may revolutionize HIV/AIDS treatment.
At 19-years-old, Kai Brothers was notified by a blood bank that he was HIV-positive. In 1989, this was as good as a death sentence. 26 years later, Brothers is just now experiencing symptoms of the disease.
In 1999, Brothers visited a leading AIDS researcher, Jay Levy, at the University of California who made a startling revelation: Brothers’ white blood cells were secreting an unidentified protein that controls the most damaging aspects of the HIV virus. Levy suspects that if reproduced, this protein could revolutionize HIV treatment.
“We know what the protein does: It blocks the virus from replicating...It maintains the virus in a silent state, in some people forever. Eventually the infected cells will die. So you could imagine that if you could keep this virus under control for 20, 30 years, you might have a spontaneous cure.”
Today, with his disease beginning to express symptoms, Brothers is at a crossroads. With decreasing white blood cell counts and a rising amount of HIV in his blood sample, he has to decide whether to begin taking antiretroviral drugs which will cease production of his rare protein, or continue the course that has kept him in good health for 30 years. Brothers, who has donated over 150 virals of blood for research purposes faces a moral dilemma, “I don’t feel like I’ve given everything I can. I want to be there when they find something and leverage it for other people. (But) it’s my priority to be healthy and alive more than anything else.”